Gold-Ringed Syringe

“Put it in me already,” Nell says through the strap in her teeth. I tease her, waving it slowly in front of her, the beautiful gold needle that has a ring to one side for one’s thumb, to keep it steady, a ring which is almost an exact replica of those surrounding our fingers.

“We’re celebrating today, remember?” I say. She nods vigorously, her veins popping out, her head pulling back to pull the pure leather belt around her upper arm even tighter. I’m worried she’ll end up cutting off her bloodstream entirely. “Calm down.” It’s a command, not a request, and she lets the strap loosen just enough. “Good. Good girl.”

She moans, and her eyes are brimming with tears, which she learned to bring on artificially in some acting class in college, but it convinces me and I finally put the needle to her vein, slip it under the skin and draw back, see the blood, no air bubbles, and push back, plunging all the way down, all the way into her. She lets the strap loose, or it falls out of her mouth, and her eyes roll up to the ceiling and she smiles lazily before even that amount of work is too much for muscles and her face goes slack. I pick her up – I’m taller and stronger than her, always have been, they call me the butch, even though they don’t know what a top she is in the bedroom – and lay her down on the couch.

I watch her, ignoring her occasional mumbles about things we need to remember to do, or things she wants me to do to her now. She’s not gone to the world, not entirely, but she is in the land of cotton wool lightness and lying down keeps her safe. Plenty of people walk around like this, but Nell and I have never understood how it’s possible.

My phone buzzes on the coffee table and I pick it up. It’s one of my clients. I automatically begin to pace.

“Hello, Tonya, how are you?”

She tells me how she is and begins to ask about her portfolio, about what I’ve done with her investments this week. She’s not seeing the rise she wants to see.
“Tonya, darling, don’t you trust me? I would never steer you wrong. I can tell you that the two new companies are going places, you just need to wait until the end of the week, you’ll see – they have something new up their sleeve is my guess because they’ve been throwing a lot of hints out there.”

She continues to complain and I sit back down on the coffee table and only listen with half an ear. I watch Nell, smiling again sometimes, her eyes opening and closing slowly, an air bubble popping through her lips and making her simulate a giggle though no sound comes out. I reassure Tonya, finally, and tell her I’ll call her on Friday. I need to stop giving clients my cell number, I remind myself, but they need it, unfortunately. I’m extraordinary at what I do – otherwise how could Nell and I afford this place, this syringe, the clean as fuck dope – and people who make money off of me are paying commissions up the wazoo so I better be available to wipe their ass if need be.

There is only one day I don’t answer the phone, and that’s the day when Nell does it to me. We take turns, once a week her, once a week me. We’re careful. We love it. We still go to meetings, and fake our way through chip after chip. Every one we get we bore a hole into and string it on this long ribbon that we hang on our balcony. It rattles, our personal version of wind chimes.
We like the meetings, the validation, the friends we’ve made, the comradery. And we feel fine.

Once a week for each of us. That’s it. That’s nothing. And it doesn’t count because we monitor one another. We’ll never hit bottom again. Bottom wasn’t fun, and we’re both happy to be here, up top. Nell’s massage business is booming and I’m back on Wall Street like nothing ever happened. So what if I met Nell at rehab. So what if you’re not supposed to date there, or in your first year after. It’s okay. We both talk to our sponsors about it. You don’t run away from the love of your life when you encounter her, no matter where you both are.

Nell raises her head a few hours later. I’m curled up at the other end of the couch with a book, playing with the syringe between my fingers. I’ve always had restless hands. “More?” she asks. I smile, and go and get the rest of the kit. What’s one more time in one day? Still nothing.

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The Barista

cafeSee the scene: a table made of real wood; chairs too; a drone of unintelligible conversation punctured by ire and laughter (they make themselves heard above any din); a man, a woman; a beer, a coffee; one tipsy, one too sober for her own good.

See me, behind a counter also made of real wood. Reinforced with metal hinges. The structure must be sound. It has to fulfill health and safety regulations. Our kitchen has no wood, I believe. Wood absorbs moisture, I imagine. There is varnish on the counter, to prevent this very problem.

I watch them. They are no more or less interesting than the others here. But I take turns, and give each table its due. Even the empty ones. Especially the empty ones. Those allow me to think about what I saw, what I heard.

But now, it is this couple’s turn. Theirs, at their wooden table, one tipsy and happy, the other listlessly merry, There are many kinds of happiness in the world. Theirs is momentary.

“Can I tell you a story idea? I’m tipsy.”
“Please!”
“Okay, so-” but the tipsy one is cut off, because I am there, not-so-surreptitiously picking up the empties, mug and bottle alike. He is beautiful, this man, and I want him to notice me. I smile. He says, “Thank you.” I stop smiling. The sober one doesn’t look at me at all. She is checking her phone. She’s one of the workaholics. I’ve seen her here before. Only memorable because of her piercings. She is not interesting. She is only average.

I wait until they leave, and I follow them. The beautiful man, he gets on the subway heading downtown. The same subway I take.

I will look for him now. In every car. On every ride. He is not more or less interesting than the others I see every day. He is only more beautiful. No one is interesting. This I have learned from countless observations of the fourteen wooden tables, three-seat bar, and twelve-seater old slab of concrete where students clack on keyboards and read Kierkegaard with furrowed brows.

No one is interesting.

 

 

 

Image / Beshef

Sandra & Richard: character sketches

It was Sandra’s pleasure, on certain nights of the year when she had saved up a few extra dollars from her minimum-wage job as a security camera technician at a large office building, to put on her most expensive-looking blouse and the pants that clung tightly to her in ways that made her uncomfortable on other days, and take herself out to a bar, for a drink or three.

Richard was the bartender at her favorite place, a swanky watering hole for journalists, for which Sandra had a particular fondness that she was pretty certain had to do with an old television show she had watched as a child, sitting in her father’s lap, in which the backroom dealings between journalists and politicians was never overtly made clear and which had conveyed to Sandra a strange idea that journalists were at the end of the day people with integrity and a need to tell the truth. Richard knew Sandra from their days in grade school, though they hadn’t met again until she’d started coming to the bar. He pretended he didn’t know her, since she clearly didn’t recognize him. When he told her his name – he made it his practice to introduce himself to people who frequented the bar, since it usually increased his tip intake – she had looked him squarely in the eyes and had shaken his hand with vigor, hers more calloused than his though he was certain his were stronger, and had said it was a pleasure to meet him.

She hadn’t been aware of him in grade school either, but then again, those years had been her queen bee era. She had been popular, a great wit among her friends, and she had had the special ability to put people down and make them love her at the same time. Sandra didn’t think much about her childhood, because she had never come to really appreciate how magical her grade school days had been. They had always been a distraction, and a poor one at that, from a home in which her brother was both intellectually and physically disabled and required the vast majority of her parents’ attention as well as her own.

Richard was, to put it simply, in love with Sandra. He didn’t know her very well, not in the sense of understanding her dreams and ambitions or her fears and foibles. But he knew enough about her to recognize that she came into the bar with the same clothes every time, indicating a wardrobe lacking in the finery she yearned for. He knew enough to recognize in her a come-hither look that screamed of loneliness as well as a lack of trust, as she rarely agreed to go home with any of the men she talked to in his bar. Her instincts and her sense of self-preservation were keen, Richard decided, or else she would let herself be hurt over and over again. Instead, she kept a close watch on her heart and kept her mind tucked away in a safe place from which it could observe, judge, and make calculated decisions.

Sandra herself would never have imagined anyone was looking at her so hard. She couldn’t fathom anyone taking such an interest. And besides, she wasn’t at the bar to find someone like Richard – a minimum wage worker like herself. She yearned, not for glamour, not even for safety, but for a mindset so different from her own that it needn’t worry about paying rent, buying groceries, credit card debt racking up. She yearned for a carelessness of mind that would have the space to be wrapped up in her, her, only her.

The Man in the Park

The duck waddled across the expanse of green grass until it reached the fountain. Its head was a dark and glossy green that shone in the sunlight. As it slid into the water gracefully, it knew itself to be beautiful.

A man dressed in two pairs of pants, three button-down shirts, a windbreaker and an overcoat stared at the duck hungrily. His hair, some might say, looked like a nest. But the man knew that no nest would be as messy, as greasy, as greasy and limp as his hair was. The man knew that nests were works of art.

Watching the duck ruffled its feathers, the man sank to his knees. He hadn’t eaten in two days, but there was a fair amount of cheap wine in his system and he felt dizzy. He wished he’d saved some of the money he’d gotten from begging at subway stops and bought some seeds or oats to feed the ducks with. He knew that bread wasn’t good for them.

He tried to remember the last time that he’d handled a bird, helped to fix its wing or given it its shots. He couldn’t remember quite how he came to be this way, dressed in everything he owned, with only a few keepsakes stuffed into his pockets from a life he didn’t know how to live anymore.

Lying down on the grass, he shut his eyes and tried to catch a nap before the inevitable policeman would tell him to get up and move on.

Paige [Flash Fiction]

Paige Crandall was frequently to be found standing on the docks, her short hair ruffling up a little in the breeze, a cigarette grasped loosely between the finger and thumb of her right hand. Her hair had gone grey early in life; she couldn’t be much older than forty, but with a head of steely bristles. Her clothing was an almost daily uniform of overalls over a white men’s t-shirt. In the winter, she’d wear a thick black coat over that, but it was usually unbuttoned, and the overalls and t-shirt could be seen underneath.

Nobody knew what to make of her. The residents of the dockside neighborhood knew her both by sight and by name, but none could quite recall how or when they’d ever met her, even though she knew all of them perfectly, and on her way home from the docks would often call out to them, asking this one how his wife fared and that one whether her son was coming home from boarding-school soon. She was friendly, you see. Positively charming, in her own way, although her smile was always tired and her eyes were careworn.

She lived in a small apartment above what used to be stables, but, of course, there were no horses there anymore. The stables were converted into a garage, and that was where Paige worked, mending old engines and changing tires. Everyone said she was the best mechanic in town. Some wondered why, in a dockside city like theirs, she mended cars and not boats. She liked the docks so much, they said, so why didn’t she want to work there?

There used to be rumors about her. People said that she took lovers often. They said she was a feminist. Some said she’d had a family once but that they’d been in an accident – whether they drowned or were killed in a car crash was greatly disputed. Someone said that she’d never had a family of her own but had been single for a long time. Nobody knew the truth, and eventually, they grew tired of talking about it. She was so nice, never hurt a fly, that there didn’t seem to be much point in speculating anymore. It would only lead to circular, pointless arguments, and besides, there were more interesting people moving in all the time for the neighborhood bar-frequenters to talk about.

Paige knew that it wouldn’t last, though. Her past was coming, she knew, and it would come from the ocean. When it did, when it caught up with her, the rumors would start flying around again. She only hoped that people would remember her kindness and interest in them when that happened.

Paparazzi [Character Study]

Mick groaned at the blinking icon on his camera’s screen; his battery was nearing empty and he had nowhere to recharge it. It was a heavy thing, one of those cameras that impress people because they make a click-click sound when they snap a photo. Nowadays there were plenty of puny digital cameras that made the same sound just for the effect of it. Mick hated those.

He wasn’t the best-looking guy in the world, but he’d learned to use what nature had given him to good advantage. When his buddies asked him how he did it, how he managed to get the one-night stands past his wife, he just smiled knowingly. The truth was that Brenda didn’t give a rat’s ass about him anymore. He suspected that she, too, had a couple of men at her beck and call. The bitch.

Turning off the camera to conserve the battery, Mick stretched. There wasn’t much room in the car – there was another thing that wasn’t fair, his wife had gotten the new car and left him with this hunk of junk – and he had to turn so that his left arm would have some room to maneuver.

Across the street, the line in front of the nightclub never seemed to get any shorter. New people kept coming: women who looked prepubescent and too-thin, men with elaborate sweeping hair-dos made to look casual, muscled and toned giants, fake girls with more plastic in their body than actual tissue. Mick was a simply guy, he liked his women real, even if it meant that they sagged a little or were a bit uneven. But his work revolved around places like this, where he got to see this other world that he would never belong to.

Like always, the space of a blink changed everything. Mick straightened up, alert, switching his camera on and bringing it close to his eye. The door to the club had opened and two well-known faces came out. They were holding hands. They leaned towards each other for a kiss and Mick began to click away.

Jo’s Bee [Flash Fiction]

In a pinch, anything will do, Jo thought. She wondered whether she should write the sentence down in the little purple notebook that she carried with her, but decided it wasn’t important enough. She watched a bee climb higher onto a flower. Its furry body was enticing, a stuffed-animal in miniature, and she longed to touch it, to stroke its back gently with a finger and feel the hairs tickle her flesh.

She moved very slowly, trying to position herself so that she could see what the bee was doing inside the flower. She couldn’t remember how they carried pollen; did it stick to their legs or their bodies? If it was to the legs, was it the back or front ones? And what about that thing people always said, that bees weren’t, technically, supposed to be able to fly? She’d heard someone say that if you could convey to a bee that it wasn’t supposed to fly, it would fall right out of the air. A beard and rimless glasses shaped themselves in her mind around a thin-lipped mouth saying the words, trying to explain the concept of conceptual reality to her (and that was an issue in itself: the concept of something conceptual? It was all very confusing.). She thought of whispering softly, in bee-language, “You can’t really fly, you know,” but decided it would be much too cruel.

A shadow fell over her, the bee and the flower. Jo didn’t move, and neither did the flower, but the bee was startled and flew away. “Wait,” Jo called to it. “Come back!” But it was gone. She turned to the possessor of the offending shadow. “Look what you did!”

“What did I do?”

“You scared the bee away.”

“I did no such thing. Come, dear, supper is being served. There’s green jello for dessert today – your favorite!”

Jo sighed, but she allowed herself to be helped up and steered inside. She suddenly had an idea. “Can I have honey with my tea and toast?”

“Honey? Why, of course you may, dear. You never ask for anything special, you’re so good, I’m sure we can give you some honey today as a treat.”

“Good.” Jo pulled the notebook out of her pocket and stopped for a moment to write down the following:

If you can’t watch the bee collecting pollen, at least you can taste a little honey. In a pinch, anything will do.